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Power of the prompt

pic of timer and notebookFor more than a year, I wrote a weekly blog post called The Sunday Squirrel. I picked a word or concept as a prompt and wrote a short scene about it. The scenes were written and published immediately, with minimal editing.

Looking back, I’m shocked that I was brave enough to put the results of those impromptu writing sessions out there for all the world to see, and even more surprised that some of them aren’t too bad.

It seems like limiting yourself to a word or specific idea would stifle creativity, but I’ve found that it actually feeds mine. The more out there the concept you have to incorporate, the more creative you have to be.

We recently did this at my local RWA chapter meeting, and I was reminded at how much fun it can be, and surprised how easily my writer brain takes off with the assignment. In 30 minutes, I wrote 504 words. That would be a struggle on most days when I’m working on my book.

Was it perfect? Hardly. But then what first draft is? Still, it got my brain working in a way it hasn’t in quite a while. My new goal is to incorporate writing prompts into my process, both to get my creative juices flowing and to take my scenes in unexpected directions.

Do you use writing prompts? What’s your experience with them?


For those who are curious—or have been around here long enough to miss The Sunday Squirrel—here’s what I came up with during that 30 minute session. The prompt was to incorporate three words/concepts and a quote given to us by a chapter member (prompts from Writing Prompts That Don't Suck).

Words/Concepts: cocktail bar, sunday school teacher, riding crop

Quote: “I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”

Victoria searched the dimly lit cocktail bar for a man with a red scarf in his pocket among the glittering bodies lounged on white leather couches. Light jazz mingled with the buzz of alcohol-fueled conversation as she navigated the twisting maze of low tables.

She finally spotted her guy at the far corner of the copper-clad bar under a blue pendant light. Steve looked too handsome for words in a gray button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up his forearms. Not at all what she had expected.

Vicki stopped mid-step.

Next to all of these women in their low cut cocktail dresses and six-inch heels, she looked like a Sunday school teacher who’d taken a wrong turn. That had originally been her plan, but now… Suddenly she wanted to impress.

Before he could spot her, Vicki ducked into the hallway that led to the restroom and pushed inside, past the group huddled around the mirrors, and entered a stall. There had to be someway to salvage her appearance.

She started by removing her short jacket to reveal the camisole-like shell underneath. The pale blue silk was somewhat transparent, and she’d run out of the house that morning wearing a black bra, figuring she’d never remove her jacket. Well, she was going for sexy, right?

Hell, all she needed now was a riding crop and she’d pass for a well dressed dominatrix.

Next, she had to deal with her lower half. She couldn’t do much about her sensible black flats, but the matching pencil skirt that fell to a sober position at mid-calf was another matter. She removed it and turned it inside out. Then, using a small kit she kept in her tote bag, Vicki folded the hem inside, pinning it to the skirt’s liner with sewing needles.

Her cell phone dinged, a reminder that she was now going to be late for her meeting. Irritation raked her skin, but she was not going back out there until her transformation was complete.

She took off the uncomfortable panty hose that her firm required she wear and stuffed them into her bag. For the final touch, she twisted her long hair into a loose bun and pinned it with a clip she kept in her purse for when she worked late. Then she used her phone’s front-facing camera as a mirror while she applied a coat of tinted lip gloss and freshened her eyeliner.

Rolling the jacket, she shoved it into her oversized bag and returned to the floor of the bar where she forced herself to stroll toward her target.

“Steve?” she asked as she stopped in front of him.

He stood and gave her a quick once over that made her stomach tingle. “Victoria. Hi.” His voice was smooth and pleasant. “I was afraid you were going to stand me up.”

“I’m just doing what the fortune cookie said. Who am I to stand in the way of fate?”